Payback time for Indigenous hip-hop

You have your Thelma Plums and your Robbie Millers but is this the extent of your Indigenous music library? It’s easily time to expand that catalogue and delve into the world of Indigenous hip-hop.

Payback Records is a relatively young record label but it is at the forefront of bringing the somewhat underground culture of Indigenous hip-hop to the surface. Founder Nathan Lovett-Murray got on the blower with Jake Wilton to talk about the growing market for the genre, humble beginnings and exciting new releases.


What led or inspired you to launch your own record label?

It was more just working with Tjimba Possum Burns who’s in the group Yung Warriors. We used to go to school together and I hadn’t seen him for a few years. I bumped into him, asked him was he’s been doing and he said he’s just finished recording an album. It was the first time I had heard Indigenous hip-hop and since then just really wanted to be a part of it. I noticed in Melbourn, at the time, there was a lot of other Indigenous rappers who are just as talented but weren’t getting opportunities. In the end, we decided we needed our own record label to promote our own music; and that’s exactly what I did.


Was it a tough concept to get off the ground in the beginning?

Definitely! Myself, not knowing much about the music industry and coming from a sporting background, it was pretty tough. Although, through my profile, I was able to open doors and meet with other people involved in the industry. It’s helped us release four CDs in the past six years and another this year with our artist Miss Hood.


Miss Hood was brought to my attention earlier in the year. She’s got an incredible story; what did you see in her?

She was one of the regional artists we found at the beginning of Payback Records. She’s been really loyal to the label and has been working hard for the past two years on her music and getting herself out there. In that time, she was able to record an album and we wanted to release it through Payback.


You mentioned Yung Warriors just before which some people may know through triple j play. Have these national radio stations helped your artists along in the process?

We’ve had a lot of support through media; moreso community radio stations. Triple j has been the biggest support in terms of the Yung Warriors album [Standing Strong]. We were able to get two singles picked up by them and they also supported one of our national tours. The exposure Yung Warriors got from that really crossed over to more of a mainstream audience.


Would you say that’s a goal of yours; to reach a more mainstream audience?

It’s always been my vision, from the start, to promote our music at an international level. I’ve been lucky to travel overseas a few times – it’s a big world out there so it would be incredible for international listeners to enjoy our music.


Around the corner is the National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs). Are these awards important to you?

Yeah, I think they’re important for all Indigenous artists who really want to get their music out on a national level and being apart of the NIMAs is really important. They give you great exposure and also give you an opportunity to perform at the awards. A lot of people in the music industry are starting to take notice of the NIMAs so it’s an exciting time.


What brought NIMAs to my attention was the success of Robbie Miller and Thelma Plum who both played and won awards. Were these artists a big push for Indigenous music?

Yeah, I think the partnership the NIMAs have with triple j Unearthed is really important, too. That’s another platform for up-and-coming artists that want to share their music on a different level.


Have you noticed a rising trend in listenership in Indigenous music?

I think the top level Indigenous musicians – Jessica Mauboy and Gurrumul Yunupingu – have done really well in Australia, especially in the mainstream media. We’ve seen that starting to trickle through to the more up-and-coming artists and our label. Six years ago I would get so many emails and request from around the country from Indigenous musicians wanting to work with Payback Records. Now you do a quick search on the Internet and instantly you get a whole variety of Indigenous hip-hop and other music genres.


You said your dream was to bring international attention to Indigenous hip-hop. Are we in the midst of an overseas demand for it?

You seen what Gurrumul has done over in Europe and Jessica Mauboy has had support slots with huge international acts. Although I think Indigenous hip-hop is going to be the next thing that’s really going to take off overseas. Once we get that support and acknowledgement then we’ll just jump at the chance.


What releases are on the horizon for Payback?

Yung Warriors are away working hard on a new record. We’ve also got a couple more releases this year as I said with Miss Hood and also we’ve got another young artist Philly. We’re looking at releasing his album around July called Not My Life along with a national tour to support it.


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Miss Hood’s new album It’s Fatal is out now via Payback Records.
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